Exploring Sicily's culinary traditions

 Rice timbale

While today Sicily is part of Italy, its traditions, architecture, and more have been influenced over the centuries by various North African and Middle Eastern cultures just as much as that of the Italian mainland. In an article that will make you want to book  the next available flight to Sicily, Marisa Raniolo Wilkins (writing for indexed blog Great British Chefs) looks at how you can trace these influences by looking at the island's food.

The history of Sicily is one of repeated conquest and colonization. "Before the Greeks and Romans, the Sicani, Elymi, Siculi and Phoenecians settled on the Mediterranean's most appealing island," notes Wilkins. Later arrivals included Byzantines, Berbers, Moors, French and Spanish, all bringing different customs, religions, and food. Although political control passed from one invading force to the next, the food traditions remained long after the wars were fought.

Wilkins notes that Sicily's food looks and tastes different than much of what is associated with Italian eats. For instance, flavors such as rosewater, pistachio, and saffron are featured prominently. The period of Arab conquest brought new farming techniques and plants, including aubergines (eggplant) and spinach. Mint, also popular among North African nations, is used more extensively in Sicily than anywhere else in Italy.

Several cookbooks in the EYB Library also explore Sicily's fascinating food traditions, including Sicily: The Cookbook by Melissa Muller, Sicily: Recipes from an Italian Island by Katie & Giancarlo Caldesi,  Sicily (The Silver Spoon series) by the Editors of Phaidon Press, Coming Home to Sicily: Seasonal Harvests and Cooking from Case Vecchie by Fabrizia Lanza and Kate Winslow, Foods of Sicily & Sardinia and the Smaller Islands by Giuliano Bugialli, Made in Sicily by Giorgio Locatelli, and Sicilia in Cucina: The Flavours of Sicily by William Dello Russo and Alessandro Saffo.    

Photo of  Rice timbale (Timballo di riso)  from  Sicily: Recipes from an Italian Island  by  Katie and  Giancarlo Caldesi

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